As 2020 came to a close, 87 businesses across Valencia County received more than $1 million in COVID-19 relief grant funds.

Last fall, the state doled out CARES Act money to local government agencies and local businesses hit hard by the pandemic. The money was released in early September and three agencies spearheaded the application and award efforts — the city of Belen, village of Los Lunas and Valencia County.

While the two municipalities handled businesses within their boundaries, the county took applications from businesses in the unincorporated areas as well as the village of Bosque Farms, town of Peralta and city of Rio Communities.

When it was all said and done, $1,031,625 was awarded to reimburse businesses for expenses ranging from personal protective equipment to cleaning supplies to outdoor eating spaces.

Belen received $117,150 for its businesses, the village got $335,475 and the county had $579,000 to award.

With the funds released on Sept. 1 and needing to be disbursed by the end of 2020, Erin Callahan, the community development director for Los Lunas, said the village had to quickly figure out how to distribute the grants as equitably as possible. The village ultimately gave out the grants in three rounds.

The first round was intended to reimburse businesses for COVID-19 related expenses they had already incurred since March 1, but by the time the village had processed the applications and documentation, it was well into November when the second round was supposed to cover expected expenses for the rest of the year.

“Round three was because we had funding left over and didn’t want to have to return any,” she said. “From my perspective, if there’s an opportunity, I will say we’d do it again. It was a lot of work but we recognize it made a big impact on our business community. The feedback we’ve gotten is that businesses are happy and it was helpful to have received.

“If there are more funds to distribute, I would say we would certainly want to apply for them. Our business community needs this. If funding is available, I’m not going to say we’re not willing to go through the paperwork.”

Jeremias Silva, Valencia County project manager/grant coordinator, said he and his staff “bugged and bothered” small businesses.

“Our mission has always been to build a bridge of communication and engagement with the businesses that applied,” Silva said. “It was tough. The money was given to us and we were basically told ‘good luck,’ but we were able to make good things happen. We were able to award the money by Thanksgiving and have checks in hand just before Christmas.”

Silva said the county relied heavily on federal and state guidance on the criteria for the grants, which was updated weekly.

“That was horrible,” he said. “At the end of the day, we waited as long as we could (to make the awards) that way we didn’t have to go back after the fact and ask for any money back.”

Saying it’s only a matter of time before additional funds come through for small business assistance, Silva said one change he’d like to see is the applications funneled through one agency.

“At the beginning, people wanted to go to one place rather than the county or Los Lunas or Belen,” he said. “When more money comes through, we’re ready for it. We have a solid process to guide the applicants through this.

“It was a lot of work, but we had business owners call and say thank you, tell us the money literally helped put food on their employees tables for Christmas. I would do it again, 100 times if I have to.”

Roseann Peralta, finance director for the city of Belen, said the grant program was a huge challenge but one the city would take up again if given the opportunity.

“Anything to help businesses here in town. I’m sure there are still costs they are having now they wouldn’t have otherwise because of COVID,” Peralta said. “If it’s done again, I think there needs to be a clearer application; the previous one was too vague.”

Peralta said even though there was guidance from the state and federal government, she felt a lot of businesses were unclear what they could apply for.

“One thing they just put out there was ‘any hours used towards COVID-19 training or response. Well, what exactly does that mean?” she said. “After a lot of back and forth with DFA, we got clarification. If an employee spent an hour every morning wiping things down or there was a staff meeting about COVID, that time counted, but who keeps track of that?”

Business expenses eligible for the grant included non-owner employee payroll, rent, scheduled mortgage payments, insurance, utilities and marketing, as well as reconfiguring physical spaces, installing Plexiglas barriers, purchasing web-conferencing or other technology to facilitate work-at-home, PPE for employees and temporary and permanent structures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

CARES Act Relief Funds for Small Businesses in Valencia County

• Tierra Del Sol Golf Course (Rio Communities): $88,311.82

• Bosque Farms Dental (Bosque Farms): $77,999.53

• Creative Design Builders, LLC (Peralta): $54,648.62

• Spa ‘n’ Cuisine, Inc. (Tomé): $40,794.15

• Sopa’s Restaurant (Bosque Farms): $37,474.39

• Just Clean Smiles (Peralta): $37,157.96

• Joe’s Pharmacy (Peralta): $37,094.50

• Peralta’s Playhouse (Peralta): $35,934.14

• Sanchez Collision & Restoration (Belen*): $32,647.79

• Snap Fitness Bosque Farms (Bosque Farms): $26,176.51

• Golden West Acupuncture and Wellness (Bosque Farms): $18,074.87

• Top Tier Service, Inc. (Peralta): $13,782.01

• Anytime Fitness (Los Lunas): $12,625.65

• Safe Site Child Development (Los Lunas): $12,625.65

• ASAP MVD (two locations in Los Lunas): $12,454.01

• Day’s Inn (Los Lunas): $11,625.65

• Morningstar Family Dental (Los Lunas): $11,625.65

• Teriyaki Chicken in Foil (Los Lunas): $11,625.65

• Acupuncture Associates of America (Los Lunas): $11,625.64

• Ray Mares Photography (Valencia County): $11,052.39

• 505 Fitness & Wellness (Los Lunas*): $10,575.23

• Valencia County Literacy Council (Tomé): $10,184.08

• Tru LLC (Belen): $10,000

• Noblin Funeral Service (Belen): $9,970.67

• Davis Floral (Belen): $9,633.17

• Brandy’s Hair Salon (Los Lunas): $9,500

• Camino Real Winery, Inc. (Los Lunas): $9,500

• China Super Buffet (Los Lunas): $9,500

• Eye Deal Vision, P.C. (Los Lunas): $9,500

• Good Fellas Pizza and Subs (Los Lunas): $9,500

• Gracie Barra (Los Lunas): $9,500

• High Desert Rehabilitation (Los Lunas): $9,500

• Jake’s Barbershop (Los Lunas): $9,500

• Kingdom Barbershop (Los Lunas): $9,500

• S&J Sporting Goods (Los Lunas): $9,500

• TBE Crossfit (Los Lunas): $9,500

• Teofilos, Inc. (Los Lunas): $9,500

• TJ’s New Mexican Restaurant (Los Lunas): $9,500

• Valencia Family Dentistry (Los Lunas): $9,500

• Western Skies Inn & Suites (Los Lunas): $9,500

• The Riley Group, LLC (Los Lunas*): $9,386.27

• The Wright Choice Learning Center (Belen): $9,271.19

• Pete’s Pro Truck and Auto Repair (Belen): $9,145

• La Dos Gringas (Belen): $8,812.56

• Donald B. Leach O.D., PC (Los Lunas): $8,500

• Main Street Muscle and Fitness (Los Lunas): $8,500

• Regal Nails (Los Lunas): $8,500

• Salina’s Hot Spot (Los Lunas): $8,500

• Boardwalk Gym (Belen): $8,317.54

• High Tech Realty (Los Lunas): $7,520.64

• J Sharp Music (Los Lunas): $7,520.64

• Denise’s Hair Studio (Peralta): $7,328.32

• Cecil Sandoval DDS (Belen): $7,006.12

• Serenity Pet Spa (Los Lunas): $6,931.85

• Nails and Spa (Los Lunas): $6,800

• Teriyaki Chicken (Belen): $6,343.78

• Camino del Llano LLC (Belen): $6,206.52

• Fancy Faces Aesthetics, LLC (Los Lunas): $5,777.50

• Sunshine Kids Therapy (Belen): $5,532.75

• Rutilios (Belen): $5,295.29

• Blue Fly Farms, LLC (Peralta): $5,004.34

• Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church (Belen): $5,000

• Los Lunas Coffee Shop (Los Lunas): $4,750

• Belen Family Dentistry (Belen): $4,523.96

• Building Dreams CDC (Los Lunas): $4,395

• Joe’s Barbershop (Los Lunas): $4,395

• Madrid Enterprises (Los Lunas): $4,395

• Rutilio’s New Mexican Foods, LLC (Los Lunas): $4,395

• The Family Connection (Los Lunas): $4,395

• Hub City Brewing (Belen): $4,199.24

• Ernie Vallez Construction (Los Lunas): $3,896

• Soil Secrets (Los Lunas): $3,896

• YCG & RVM (Los Lunas*): $3,444.74

• Mike’s Barbershop (Los Lunas): $3,125.64

• Nemesis Performance (Los Lunas): $3,125.64

• Orona Real Estate (Los Lunas): $3,125.64

• Valencia Health & Wellness (Belen): $3,112.03

• Ace Grooming Pet Spa (Los Lunas): $2,726

• Rio Golf (Tomé): $2,556

• A.T.C Personal Trainer LLC (Los Lunas): $2,500

• Remedies Plus (Los Lunas): $2,404

• Greg’s Bar B Q (Belen): $1,344.02

• Bethlehem Trading Post (Belen): $1,202.80

• Al’s Styling Salon (Belen): $1,123.89

• Hair Innovations (Belen): $978.80

• Snacks by Jessee (Los Lunas): $850

• Cindy’s Hair & Nails (Belen): $399.99

(*unincorporated Valencia County)

The local company that received the largest grant — $88,311.82 — was T Three, LLC, which operates the Tierra Del Sol Golf Course in Rio Communities.

Craig Tabet wrote the course shut down from March 23 to May 2 almost a year to the day after T Three took over operations in 2019.

“We were left with nearly nothing coming in and 90 percent of expenses still to be paid. The staff was cut in half, but it was still necessary to maintain the 152 acres of grass on the golf course,” Tabet wrote in the application.

Total expenses paid out during the complete closure was $120,000, he continued, a cost usually covered by increased use of the golf course in March, when the season tees off. When the course was allowed to reopen in May, it was at a limited capacity, and tee times were cut in half with intervals every 15 minutes instead of seven to eight.

The business’s main source of revenue was its food and beverage services, which was hit hard since it couldn’t use its 20,000 square feet of bar/lounge and banquet facilities.

“We were allowed to serve beverages, including alcohol, from the pro shop for customers to enjoy on the course and on outside patios,” Tabet wrote. “Which we will add to and redesign to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Top Tier Service, a commercial and residential HVAC company in Peralta, received $13,782.01, most of which went to covering the benefits for its employees, said owner Joan Baker.

“Top Tier pays 100 percent of our employee benefit package — medical, dental and vision — and the rest went to PPE,” Baker said. “We do service for educational facilities and assisted living facilities, so we need specialized equipment that ensures we’re protecting the occupants and technicians from the virus.”

Baker said the grant helped the company adjust to offer residential system service as well as indoor air quality services to reduce virus transmission.

Applying for the CARES Act grant required more paperwork than the Paycheck Protection Program loan the company received, but if needed, Baker said they would do it again.

“It’s something we’ll consider if we need it. I definitely wouldn’t want to take from a business that needed it more than us,” she said. “We’ve adjusted and I feel like there has been great support from our state and our county. I do feel like things are stabilizing economically. Business owners adjust and that’s what we’re doing.”

In Belen, Pete’s Pro Truck and Auto Repair received $9,145, which went to restocking disposable steering wheel covers, floor mats and seat covers, as well as payroll expenses.

“It’s all about keeping customers and our guys safe,” said Letisha Garcia, who owns the business with her husband, Pete. “We were able to get some equipment, like wet/dry vacuums for the shop to help with sanitizing. We also bought a lot of sanitizing solutions for wiping things down.”

Garcia said the shop does a lot of fleet service, which means having to sanitize for COVID-19 as well as other things.

“We have the issue of companies picking up people from hotels and then bringing the vehicles here for service, so we have to be careful about bedbugs,” she said. “We have the contract for the railroad, so with a lot of their guys down, we’ve been lucky that they’ve brought in their fleet vehicles more.”

Garcia said the shop also saw a good amount of business from people stuck at home.

“I think more people were at home, sitting there, thinking about things they could do,” she said. “I’m grateful we’re considered essential and have been able to stay open and keep our guys working. We have been very fortunate and blessed.”

Closed for three months and now not really fully open, the owner of S&J Sporting Goods in Los Lunas says he’s going to keep trying to stay afloat.

Even with the $9,500 CARES Act grant, Jason Gonzales says it doesn’t come close to making up for lost event revenue at his indoor archery range.

“We lost $1,000 in just the first weekend,” Gonzales said. “This was a Band-Aid. Other businesses that got this money were never shut down and were making serious money. I feel like they took advantage of the system.”

Gonzales said being put in the same category as essential businesses that continued to operate didn’t make sense to him.

“I hope it all comes out in the wash,” he said. “Even when we opened back up, everybody was scared to move around, and I can’t blame them.”

The business has its retail operation open but Gonzales says the large archery events were what brought people in and got S&J’s name out there.

“That’s what hurt us. Parties and events — I can’t imagine doing anything like that. If you reopen, you’re taking a big chance. If someone gets sick, you could get sued. I could get sick. I lost my mom in December and my sister was sick,” he said.

“We’ll do what we can to survive. This was from the CARES Act. It would be nice if it cared a little more.”

Claudette Riley, owner of The Riley Group in Tomé, said she was excited the county was able to offer the grant program.

“I used the grant for marketing and on technology to make my business more remote,” Riley said of the $9,386.27 her company received. “I run a small business accounting firm, so this paid for things like my Zoom membership so I could hold remote sessions with clients.”

Riley said the grant was very beneficial for her business.

“I was also really excited to see it offered for the unincorporated areas,” she said. “A lot of times, things like this are just for municipalities. It’s nice the businesses in the unincorporated part of the county were offered the same funding opportunity.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.